Saturday, January 04, 2014

Pic(k) of the Week: So long, Nick Funnell!

Sweetwater's Brewers Three

After 17 1/2 years as executive brewer for the three Sweetwater Tavern brewpubs in northern Virginia, British-trained Nick Funnell (pronounced fun NELL) has hung up his boots. Funnell's final day on the job will be 31 December 2013. Here he is (on the left), with fellow brewers Joe Schineller (c) and Jake Sullivan (r), at the Sweetwater Tavern, in Centreville, Virginia.

"I'm too old for this," he half-joked. That's hard to imagine for this brewer, a respected doyen among Washington-D.C.-area brewers (in fact the region's longest tenured brewer) and an educator of good brewers nationwide, as an instructor at the American Brewers Guild.

Born in Yorkshire, U.K., Funnell worked for several breweries in Great Britain, including Ushers, a now-closed brewery, near the Dorset area. He moved to the U.S. in the mid 1990s, hired to open a Washington, D.C., brewpub for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based Dock Street Brewing. When that venture failed (through no fault of his!), he was hired to open and run brewing operations at Sweetwater Tavern, in Merrifield, Virginia. Part of the Great American Restaurants chain of restaurants in northern Virginia, Sweetwater Tavern now has three locations, all of which Funnell oversees as brewmaster.

How does a young scientist from York, England become head brewer for Sweetwater Taverns in Northern Virginia? Chemistry. That’s right. Nick’s chemistry degree from the University of Leeds in the U.K. ignited a passion that led him to brew some of the finest beers in the world. After refining his beer-making skills in the U.K., Nick moved to the States and was hired as Great American Restaurants’ first brewer in 1996. Nick now leads a skilled and dedicated brew crew <...> “People are so enthusiastic and interested when I say I’m a brewer,” says Nick. “I definitely made the right career choice. After all, I’m paid to do something a lot of people do as a hobby; there must be something good in that.”

The afternoon I stopped by to say goodbye, Funnell didn't have much time to chat. His car was due at the auto-shop, where it was to be prepped for an upcoming twenty-four hundred mile trip to Portland, Oregon. Funnell has accepted a position there with Brewers Supply Group, otherwise known as BSG Craftbrewing. In that city, a hotbed of U.S. 'craft' beer, he'll be using his expertise to assist brewers to find equipment, materials, ingredients, services, and supplies.

Funnell has the bling to back that up. During his tenure at Sweetwater Taverns, he's scored several medals at the Great American Beer Festival, the premier competition and showcase for 'craft' breweries in the U.S. For example:
  • Great American Restaurants Octoberfest (Silver: 2013)
  • Great American Restaurants Pale Ale (Gold: 2010)
  • Crazy Jackass Ale, German-style amber rye beer (Gold: 2009)
  • Wit's End Ale, Belgian-style white ale (Silver: 2006)
  • Wild West Fest Lager, Oktoberfest (Bronze: 2006)
  • High Desert Imperial Stout (Silver: 2001)
"I would have liked more," Funnell chuckled. "But I'm happy with what I've done."

I sipped on his malt-forward yet dry-finishing Sidewinder Holiday Bock. "It's 8.2% alcohol," he warned me. Suddenly, I felt wistful. Maybe it was the alcohol. Or maybe it was because I realized that this was the last Funnell-brewed beer I might ever drink. But, then, I reflected on how fortunate all of us in northern Virginia have been to have had such good beers for nearly two decades.

So long, Nick. Good luck, and thanks for all the beer!

Washington D.C.-area brewers, industry professionals, and good-beer fans gathered at Mad Fox Brewing, in Falls Church, Virginia, to 'roast' Funnell, on 30 January. The event was emceed by long-time DC beer personality Bob Tupper. Photos from the evening's festivities: here.

  • Joe Schineller —who has been the brewer at the Sterling pub— will move to the Centreville pub, and assume overall command. Jake Sullivan —who previously was a brewer at the Blue Mountain Barrel House, in Arrington, Virginia— moves to Sterling. Brian Quann remains at the helm at Merrifield.
  • Sweetwater Tavern is not affiliated with the Sweetwater Brewing Company, of Atlanta, Georgia. Due to trademark issues, Sweetwater Tavern's beers are identified by its parent company's name: Great American Restaurants.
  • Pic(k) of the Week: one in a weekly series of personal photos, usuually posted on Saturdays, and often, but not always, with a good fermentable as a subject. Camera: Olympus Pen E-PL1.
  • Commercial reproduction requires explicit permission, as per Creative Commons.

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